Steer clear of politics to resolve Lepa stalemate
The SAT$1 million District Development Project grants have been hailed as a game-changer since the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) administration introduced the policy when it came into office in the latter part of 2021.
For the first time in recent years, the policy took away the decision-making powers over funding for community-based projects from the Government of the day and the bureaucracy. It vested it with the people through their elected representatives and the 51 constituencies’ district council committees. In terms of the devolution of powers in a parliamentary democracy such as ours, it is the best example there is of giving power back to the people, enabling them to decide which projects get funding based on the needs of their own communities.
Having the Member of Parliament (MP) of the constituency as the Chairman of the district council committees was also logical as ultimately they were given the mandate at a general election to represent the people of the constituency and promote their people’s interest and wellbeing.
Due to its significance in Samoa, it is not surprising that the $1 million project has been making headlines since its inception. One particular story doing the rounds this week has been on a stalemate within the Lepa constituency. This has led the Minister for Women, Community and Social Development, Leota Laki Sio to attempt to get the M.P. Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi to step down as the Chairman of the Lepa District Council Committee.
Minister Leota wrote to Tuilaepa in a letter dated 1 August 2023 raising concerns about his continuous involvement with the leadership of the committee, which he claimed was creating more differences and preventing projects from being rolled out. According to the Minister, he has received letters of complaint from district representatives about the leadership of Tuilaepa.
However, the Deputy Chairman of the Lepa District Council Committee, Auelua Samuelu Enari has written a letter of support for the Lepa M.P. and rejected the attempts by the Minister to force Tuilaepa to step down. Defending the veteran politician, Auelua wrote that the district currently complies with the policy, which stipulates that the M.P. of the constituency is the Chairman of the committee, and he called for an investigation to look at the allegations concerning a lease while describing the attempts to remove Tuilaepa as discriminatory in nature.
We are intrigued by this development concerning the former prime minister’s constituency and the Minister’s attempts to get him to step down as the Chairman of the committee. Surely, there are protocols in place to address these kinds of stalemates, which are now threatening to hold back projects from being rolled out.
First things first, why not initiate an investigation as Auelua proposed in his letter to Leota, to get to the bottom of the issue and then use the findings as justification for a course of action? Perhaps, the Minister needs to be reminded that the SAT$1 million District Development Project comes from public funds, and the call for an investigation into the allegations that the district representatives made makes sense.
Don’t we all live in a society that respects and upholds the rule of law? If there are concerns about the use of public funds then there are systems and processes in place, which we are sure the Minister is familiar with being a former bureaucrat himself. If an investigation concludes that there is evidence of alleged foul play in relation to the use of district grants – that is the time to present the allegations to the M.P. concerned and ask for him or her to step down as the Chairman or Chairwoman.
Right now, based on the correspondence that the Minister has written to Tuilaepa, he appears to be driven by the sentiments expressed by the district representatives without any substantial evidence being put forward to warrant that extreme course of action.
In fact, as the Minister for Women, Community, and Social Development – whose Ministry is tasked with the governing oversight of the $1 million District Development Project grants – it is incumbent on Leota (and his predecessor) to play an umpiring role so the MWCSD is not accused of being biased in favour of the ruling party and the government of the day.
The decision by Leota to write to the Lepa M.P. in his 1 August 2023 letter to ask him to step down as the Chairman – without providing proper justification for that course of action – has all the hallmarks of a political agenda that won't look good for the current Government. Let’s hope commonsense prevails at a meeting where the Minister also hopes a solution to the stalemate will be found.
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